Pretentious or Presidential? President Obama’s Summer Reading List
Everybody needs a vacation, especially presidents. Supporters of President Obama are glad he’s on vacation because he works hard and they want him energized for his final months in office. Critics are glad he’s on vacation because that means he’s not signing executive orders or making speeches on television.
And when it comes to presidents, everything can be polarizing, even the books they read. Just as President Obama’s vacation was starting, the White House released his vacation reading list, which included the following books:
All That Is by James Salter
All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow
At first glance, this list is impressive. Several award-winning books, some literary fiction, and nothing written by James Patterson. Some critics have complained that it’s unlikely for President Obama to read that many time-consuming books during a brief vacation. Maybe, but that’s not the point of a vacation reading list. You choose six books, just in case five of them suck.
President Obama is the president, after all. If he doesn’t want to read all six books, he doesn’t have to, just like President Bush 41 didn’t have to eat broccoli because he didn’t like broccoli and he was the President of the United States.
Even if President Obama claims later to have read all of the books, I might not believe him. Politicians often claim to be experts on stuff they haven’t read, but that stuff is usually legislation, not books. I don’t mean to pick on President Obama. I’m also not convinced President Bush 43 really painted the pictures that he’s claimed he’s painted. I simply don’t trust politicians, regardless of political party.
Maybe, just maybe, these books are on President Obama’s reading list because he’s expected to read literary stuff. President Obama is an Ivy Leaguer, and Ivy Leaguers can’t be seen reading Stephen King or John Grisham. Those novels don’t look presidential. But if the White House has released a list of books that President Obama won’t really read, then it makes him look pretentious. I expect any president to have flaws, but literary pretention seems to be an unnecessary one.
Here’s the problem. Every March, the White House makes a big deal about President Obama’s NCAA March Madness brackets. It’s kind of fun to compare the president’s results with the rest of the nation (even though a president should maybe have much more important things to do). President Obama seems to know a lot about college basketball.
What does this have to do with his reading list?
I know hundreds of people who fill out NCAA March Madness brackets, and I know know a few people who read literary fiction regularly, even on vacation. In my experience, however, there is no overlap. People who are serious about their NCAA brackets are not interested in literary fiction or Pulitzer Prize-winning books. They might be married to somebody who likes literature, but there is no direct overlap. Therefore, President Obama is (probably) being pretentious with his reading list.
Maybe the First Lady is reading from this book list. Maybe the Obama daughters are. But it’s probably not the president. He might glance at the books, maybe thumb through a few pages, but he’s not reading them. Not if he’s serious about those NCAA brackets. It’s a completely different mindset.
There is the possibility that President Obama doesn’t fill out his own NCAA brackets. Maybe he devours literature on a regular basis but doesn’t let anybody know because it would cut into his cool persona. Maybe his aides fill out his brackets for him while the president catches up on award-winning literary fiction. Maybe, but I doubt it.
Therefore, until I hear from the White House that President Obama does NOT complete his own March Madness brackets, I’m afraid I have to conclude that our president is a literary pretender. And that’s okay with me, as long as he’s not reading anything by James Patterson.
What do you think? Have you read any of the books on President Obama’s reading list? What was on your own summer reading list? Do you fill out NCAA basketball brackets every year? Is it possible to seriously fill out NCAA March Madness brackets AND read lots of literary award-winning books?
Nice Things didn’t make President Obama’s summer reading list, but there’s always next year!